“Introduction to 2 Corinthians,” New Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2016)
“2 Corinthians,” New Testament Study Guide
This epistle of the Apostle Paul to the members of the Church in Corinth stands out for its themes of comfort in the midst of affliction, strength in the midst of weakness (as exemplified by Paul himself), and discerning true teachers from false ones. Paul’s example and teachings recorded in 2 Corinthians can inspire you to remain true and faithful to the eternal covenants you have made with God, the Eternal Father, no matter the circumstances or the consequences.
Paul wrote this epistle to the Corinthian Saints (see 2 Corinthians 1:1).
Shortly after Paul wrote the epistle we have as 1 Corinthians, a riot developed in Ephesus in opposition to his teachings (see Acts 19:23–41), and he departed to Macedonia (see Acts 20:1; 2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5). It appears that while he was in Macedonia he wrote 2 Corinthians, likely around A.D. 55–57 (see Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”; Guide to the Scriptures, “Pauline Epistles,” scriptures.lds.org).
The epistle we have as 2 Corinthians was written to Church members in Corinth. While Paul was in Macedonia during his third missionary journey, Titus brought him news from Corinth that an earlier letter he had sent had been well received by the Saints there (see 2 Corinthians 7:6–13). The Corinthian branch of the Church was making progress, but Paul also learned of false teachers there who were corrupting the pure doctrines of Christ. Sometime after Paul’s initial visit to Corinth and a probable second visit (see 2 Corinthians 1:15–16), when he seems to have chastised some of the Saints (see 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:21), preachers from the Jerusalem area had come to Corinth and begun teaching the Saints that they must adopt Jewish practices, contrary to Paul’s teachings. Much of 2 Corinthians addresses the problems caused by these false teachers.
Paul’s letter addressed both those who desired more of his words (see 2 Corinthians 1–9) and those who were reluctant to accept his teaching (see 2 Corinthians 10–13). In general, the text of 2 Corinthians reveals several purposes of this letter:
To express gratitude to and strengthen the Saints who had responded favorably to his previous letter
To warn of false teachers who corrupted the pure doctrines of Christ
To defend his personal character and authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10–13)
To encourage the Corinthian Saints to make a generous financial offering to the impoverished Saints of Jerusalem (see 2 Corinthians 8–9)
While many of Paul’s letters focus on doctrine, much of this letter emphasizes his relationship with the Corinthian Saints and his love and concern for them. Though Paul was firm in his opposition to critics, throughout 2 Corinthians we see him as a tender priesthood leader caring for the happiness and well-being of the Saints. He also shared some autobiographical details of his life and wrote of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
In a sacred experience recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2–4, Paul described himself as “a man in Christ” who was “caught up to the third heaven,” where he saw and heard unspeakable things. This vision, taken together with his previous doctrinal statement concerning the differences in glory of resurrected bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15:35–44), can be seen as a biblical parallel to the vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76.
2 Corinthians 1–5. Paul testifies that God comforts His children in all their tribulations. He challenges the Saints to love and forgive each other. The gospel and the workings of the Spirit of the Lord are more glorious than the letter of the law of Moses. Paul encourages his readers in their moments of adversity and reminds them of the eternal nature of God’s love and glory. He helps readers understand their need to be reconciled to God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 6–13. While facing criticism and opposition from false teachers, Paul defends his sincerity as a servant of the Lord and invites his readers to be separate from the world. He teaches about “godly sorrow” (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Paul thanks the Corinthian Saints for their contributions to the poor in Jerusalem and encourages them to continue to give generously. He speaks strongly against “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13). He glories in the Lord and shares biographical details of his tribulations and faith in Jesus Christ. He writes of his vision of the third heaven, and he invites the Saints to examine themselves and to prove themselves faithful.